Bush hails Israeli-US ties to warm Knesset welcome

United States president George W. Bush addressed Israel's parliament Wednesday on his Middle East tour, praising US-Israeli relations and "six decades of achievement" since the Jewish state's creation in 1948.


US President George W. Bush was greeted at Israel's parliament on Thursday with pomp and ceremony before a keynote speech marking the Jewish state's 60th birthday that several Arab MPs boycotted.

In his first appearance before the legislative body, the president exhalted the "unbreakable" friendship between the two close allies and promised US support for Israel in the face of future threats.

"Happy independence day!" Bush said in Hebrew, drawing a raucous standing ovation.

"Israel's population may be just over seven million. But when you confront terror and evil, you are 307 million strong, because the United States of America stands with you," Bush said.

Ten MPs from the three Israeli-Arab parties declared they would boycott Bush's speech, which comes the same day Palestinians mark the "Naqba," or catastrophe, of the exodus of 760,000 Arabs after the birth of the state.

Bush had earlier laid a wreath at the memorial to the fallen soldier at the entrance to the parliament, known as the Knesset.

The US president, who arrived in Israel on Wednesday for a two-day visit anchored on the celebrations of its 60th birthday, visited the Masada fortress in the Judean desert south of Jerusalem earlier on Thursday.

Israelis consider Masada an emblem of heroic resistance because Jews besieged by the Romans in a hilltop fortress during a rebellion in 70 AD chose suicide over surrender.

The US president called the monument "an inspiring monument to courage and sacrifice," in his Knesset address and vowed that "Masada shall never fall again" --  a reference to an oath sworn by Israeli soldiers.

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